Camping on Salt Spring Island
In early April we went on our first camp of the year at Ruckle Park on Salt Spring Island. This two-night mini adventure included camping, market shopping, disc golf, boozing and bocce (the perfect weekend). The first night of our camp there was a wind storm with 80 - 90km/hour winds that basically blew our butts off. Luckily, it was warm and not raining so the wind became kind of a team building activity as we fought with and against it.
Salt Spring Island is the largest of the Gulf Islands. It has a long history from being a refuge for African Americans fleeing California in 1858 to becoming an artists' paradise in the 1960s. Now it is known for its beautiful scenery and for its artists (that master in almost every discipline). Even as a short-term visitor, you can tell that Salt Spring is a way of life.
Here’s a bit of information about what we did during our weekend on Salt Spring. It barely even scratches the surface of all you can see and do on this little island.
Ruckle Provincial Park is a beautiful campground is on the south-eastern tip of the island. The campground is ‘open-concept’ with some sites hidden in the trees, but most are out in the open with little coverage. In the summer the entire peninsula is lit up like Christmas lights with colourful tents scattering the shore.
The fire pits are all large communal circles every couple hundred metres. On one hand you lose some privacy as you bundle up with strangers next to the fire, on the other hand the open campground doesn't provide much privacy anyways, so you might as well meet some neighbours. We were the there early April and had our pick of the sites, but in the summer a reservation is necessary.
On Salt Spring there are tasting rooms galore, like Salt Spring Ale, Salt Spring Cheese, Salt Spring Vineyards, and many others without the Island as their namesake. Below are just the places we went in April.
Salt Spring Island Market - Everything at the Salt Spring Island Market has to be made and produced locally. The market has so much variety it seems suspicious that all these products could really come from this small island, but they do. In the summertime, it can get a bit unmanageably popular, with people pushing through the thoroughfare like a river current. But if you can handle the crowds, it's worth exploring. I bought two mugs!
Disc Golf - Salt Spring Island has the most Disc Golf courses per capita in the world (that’s not a real stat, but it feels that way). Most of the courses are private, but Mouat’s park is not. Mouat’s is known for being a great place for beginners to fall in love with the game (it worked me). The park is a combination of frisbee, golf and hiking. If you're looking to add something special to a hike or just throw stuff in the woods with friends, Mouat's is the place for you!
Mount Maxwell - You either need a four-wheel drive vehicle or legs made for climbing to get to the summit of Mount Maxwell. We took the 4Runner so we got the views with none of the exercise. And damn those views. Mount Maxwell Provincial Park was established in 1938 and contains Baynes Peak; a spectacular lookout with panoramic views of Salt Spring Island and the Cowichan Valley.
Oystercatcher Restaurant - We stopped in at the Oystercatcher for caesars. When we first walked into this beautiful restaurant in Ganges, with massive windows overlooking the harbour and a fire place on both floors, I was a bit worried that we were not dressed appropriately. We walked in dripping wet, chilled to the bone and sat at the table closest to the fire. The staff at the Oystercatcher treated us ridiculously well. After hearing about our night in the storm and morning in the rain they let us hang out dirty, wet coats off the mantel of the fireplace, moved the table right next to the fire and gave us some super plush blankets. The service was amazing and the food was delicious. They are a sustainably focused restaurant serving a farm to table menu (serving more of what Salt Spring has to offer). They took us in with our dripping coats, muddy boots, and silly spirits and were just really excellent.
Salt Spring Ale - Travelling up the long drive to the Salt Spring Ale's tasting room/brewery, it feels like you're in a fairytale approaching grandmother's cottage. Once you get up the stairs to the tasting room, the little cottage is packed with beer loving, gumboot wearing west coasters (beards galore). It's busy because the beer is good. Made from the natural spring water and organic malt, the beer is clean and fresh --almost like beer is good for you. I recommend the Golden Ale or the Heather, but if you like something more hoppy the Earl Grey IPA is highly sought after, although they have fabulous winter beers too. So it's all good, take a growler or two and fill up!
As it is an island the only way to get there is by boat or plane. Harbour Air and Salt Spring Air will fly you right into Ganges. However, if you want to arrive by bike or car you’ll have to hop aboard a ferry. There are three ferry routes on Saltspring connecting it on every side (Long Harbour - Tsawwassen/Gulf Islands — Fulford Harbour - Swartz Bay — Vesuvius - Crofton).
That’s a snapshot of our Salt Spring Island trip. There’s so much to do, but you could easily setup camp at Ruckle and not move for a weekend and still have an amazing time. As you drive around the winding, twisting roads of the Island just take it all in, enjoy the classic west coast feel with a bit of Salt Spring freaking magic.